The Denver Nuggets pounced on the Los Angeles Lakers Wednesday night, defeating Lonzo Ball and company 122 -104.
The Nuggets trotted out a different looking team for their third preseason match up. Starters Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris, Paul Millsap and Wilson Chandler all got the night off. The second unit got a chance to shine as Jamal Murray, Will Barton, Juancho Hernangomez, Trey Lyles and Mason Plumlee took the floor for tip-off.
The DNP’s didn’t stop the Mile High Basketball club from inserting their dominance. Led by Jamal Murray, the Nuggets offense caught fire. Denver finished the game with 19 made three pointers on just 38 attempts.
The Nuggets are known for their contagious ball movement, but Barton really likes to dribble and create his own shot. At times in this game, when Barton and Murray made up the backcourt, Barton seemed take control of the ball handling responsibilities far more than you’d expect.
While it may be preferable to see the point guard more involved on the ball, Murray does have some value as an off the ball player. It was on full display Wednesday night as Jamal excelled in catch-and-shoot situations, something he struggled with last year.
Murray can score, of that there is little doubt. But he needs to improve his catch-and-shoot game to take that next step. His performance in this game was particularly encouraging. The former Wildcat shot 5-6 from the three point line and 6-7 from the field to finish with 20 points in 23 minutes.
Thanks to a night off for the starters, other players were able to grab additional minutes. They capitalized on the opportunity. Juan Hernangomez saw 25 minutes and scored 18 points while shooting 63.6 percent from the field and 66.7 percent from beyond the arc
Back up center Mason Plumlee saw 26 minutes of action on Wednesday night and he made the most of them. The big man finished with 13 points on 5-7 shooting. But more importantly he inhaled 14 boards—five of them on the offensive end—and he tacked on seven assists. Plumlee’s passing ability has long been lauded but his energy on the boards was superb all night long.
Additional standouts were Trey Lyles and Kenneth Faried. The two are currently intertwined in a battle for the back up power forward role. The two have also alternated in receiving the lion’s share of the minutes in each game so far.
Kenneth had a good scoring night, shooting 11-13 from the field for 25 points. However with the exception of one seven footer, all of the Manimals shots all came from inside the paint. That’s not an inherently bad thing, just not as conducive to what the Nuggets are trying to do in their offense.
Lyles has a much more versatile game. At times, he looked like he might fit the mold of what the Nuggets need out of their back up four. He was able to play decent defense and spread the floor on offense. Lyles shot 3-5 from deep while finishing with four steals. The 6’10” 234 lbs forward from Kentucky has a skillset that could, in theory, add another wrinkle to this offense that Kenneth just cannot.
The entire Nuggets team continues to make improvements on the defensive side. It looks like they’re buying into Malone’s new aggressive scheme. While the point guard and the back up forward situations will need to be resolved, the defensive effort will be worthy of your attention as the preseason rolls on. This team will be elite offensively and that’s the next step as they ascend to genuine contention.
The Nuggets will take on the San Antonio Spurs Sunday afternoon at 2:00 pm. This game is not televised but should be on KKSE 950 AM radio.